What makes a city in the UK

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” This is how American-Canadian journalist, author, theorist and activist Jane Jacobs portrays the importance of cities in our lives. There are currently 69 cities in the UK, and here you will find out what it takes for a town to become a city.

what makes a city
Source: Plante Moran

The UK parliament’s official website identifies four significant factors that often are linked to distinguish a city. “City status in the UK can be associated with having a cathedral or a university, a particular form of local government, or having a large population.” The status of the city is actually bestowed by the monarch on the recommendation of ministers. During the last decades “a structured decision-making process” was made to give a city status. Still, most UK cities achieved it by a grant of a charter a few hundred years ago. Some cities like London, Durham, York, Exeter, Winchester and Canterbury count as “time immemorial”.

City councils do not have a powerful impact on the city getting a status. In its own right, a city council is not a type of local authority. “In law, a city council could be a unitary authority (e.g. Manchester), a district council (e.g. Cambridge), or a parish council (e.g. Truro).” City status is different from the reorganizations to provincial authority structures in legislation (like the Municipal Corporations Act 1835, the local government acts of the 1880s and 1890s, and the local government acts of 1972 England and Wales and of 1973 of Scotland).

The acts did occasionally affect city status, but the majority of the time, they have not impacted the status of a city. It is not required for a city to have a cathedral, and in fact, Birmingham was the first place that was recognized as the city in 1889.

what makes a city uk
Source: Logan Air

On the last decades, the status of the city was given by a set of “competitive bids”, controlled by “Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (or its predecessors).” In 2000, the Millennium competition granted Brighton, Inverness and Wolverhampton a status of the city. In 2002, the Golden Jubilee competition winners of a city status were Preston, Stirling, Newport (South Wales), Lisburn, Newry and Exeter. In 2012, only three towns – Perth in Scotland, Chelmsford in England and St. Asaph in Wales – out of 25 had been acknowledged as cities.

There are cases when a city has lost its status. One of them was in 1974, when Rochester was connected with Chatham to form a Medway Borough Council. For some instances, the quality of the city was taken away and retrieved later. John Beckett explored how in April 2000 Hereford lost its status by an attachment to the new city (parish) council. However, on 9 October Hereford was restored through letters patent. In 1886, city status was taken away from St David’s in Pembrokeshire due to the local government reconstruction. The borough operation was practically not functioning, and it was not possible to refuse conclusion at that time. A similar situation happened in the 1840s in Armagh, in Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, in 1994 the Queen provided city status to these places again, because of its Christian significance during the last century.

what makes a city uk
Source: BBC

According to the BBC, towns are interested in becoming cities because of the economic benefits that grant more financial investments. Another reason for wanting to transition into a city is a pride. “While some people really don’t care if they wake up each morning in a town or city, others feel there is a principle at stake and are bitterly aggrieved if their city is downgraded in a newspaper or television report.”

The process of town shifting into a city is more complicated than it can look at first glance. It is a myth that a city should own a cathedral or a university, acquire a particular form of local government, or consist of a large population. However, the Queen and ministers grant the city status to a town. As history shows, a city’s position cannot be a forever one and can change due to the various circumstances.

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